Great White Sharks To Wear Cameras For Research Off South Australia

Researchers are proposing a novel method of studying a great white shark population near South Australia, and are planning to attach sophisticated cameras to the animals’ dorsal fins in an attempt to discern the details of their unique predatory behavior.

The unusual project is the work of the Southern Shark Ecology Group at Flinders University, which is led by Dr. Charlie Huveneers, according to ABC. The group aims to study the white shark population present in the Neptune Islands in Spencer Gulf, located off the South Australian coast.

While great whites exhibit dramatic predation behavior in other parts of the world, rocketing from the surf to catch their prey from below unawares, the Neptune Islands’ sharks hunt in a dramatically different way. This is a marked contrast with other white shark populations, like the one ensconced off False Bay in South Africa, as Dr. Huveneers pointed out.

“On some mornings you can see up to 30 of these attempted predations [at False Bay]. At the Neptune Islands, in the five years I have been doing research there, I have only seen maybe three or four predations. We’re presuming the sharks are at Neptune Island for feeding… but we are not seeing the predation.”

The researchers note that there could be several reasons for these behavioral differences. Visibility may be far lower in the Neptune Islands, forcing the white sharks to alter their behavior (attacking from below, as they do in False Bay, by nature requires the animals to be able to see as far as the surface while they swim along the bottom). In addition, researchers are aware that despite the highly migratory nature of the species, the white sharks of False Bay and the Neptune Islands are distinct and unique populations, a fact borne out by genetic testing.

“Genetic analysis has been done and has shown distinctions between South Africa and Australia.”

In order to shed some light on the Neptune Islands’ white shark population, Dr. Huveneers and his colleagues are embarking on a somewhat unusual research trip, during which they aim to affix sophisticated cameras to the dorsal fins of these great white sharks. The units will also include a thermometer and and an accelerometer, allowing scientists to measure both the ambient water temperature as well as the speed of any attack. The cameras are completely non-invasive, and release from the shark after they have completed filming, emitting a satellite signal that will allow researchers to collect them.

Despite the unique aim of the project, tagging sharks is hardly a new concept. In recent years, the work of groups like Ocearch and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy have pulled back the curtain on the elusive species, as NECN observes, allowing both researchers and the general public access to a dramatic amount of data which has revealed the habits and migratory patterns of white sharks worldwide. Earlier this summer, Ocearch was even able to identify a great white shark breeding ground in an area off Long Island known as the New York Bight, as the Inquisitr previously noted. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, meanwhile, is in the midst of the third year of a population study off Cape Cod, making excellent use of scientists’ first-ever predictable access to great white sharks in the Northern Atlantic.

[Photo by Elias Levy – Own Work via Flickr| Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]